Non-Member Tithing

Since I’ve been a non-member but no longer an investigator ( Perhaps I will begin to use the pop culturally savy term Dry Mormon ) I have been increasingly faced with the difficult moral question about whether or not I should be giving tithing. This is especially relevant for me since for the 2009 year while abroad I am not going to be working at all. This means that once I am baptized I will have no income for tithing. I also want to be careful to ensure that not a bit of my fathers money is spent on any church related activity because to do so would be to violate his desires and dictates. Thus, it has been an issue on my mind for a while. After much prayer and though, I felt very strongly that I should be giving tithing but did not do so despite the promptings of the spirit quite clearly in favor of it. I kept latching onto rumors in anti-LDS websites that church tithing rolls were used as leverage to try to extract the maximum donations from California members in support of Proposition 8 ( I will certainly have to make many posts about my feelings on this matter). I brought this up with my Bishop and he denied such rumors very strongly, but I still demurred and did not give any tithing. Over winter break, I had an experience where I had contributed to the breaking of something in a friends apartment ( I’d rather spare the details) for which she had to pay the landlord 50 percent of the repairs. I am sure you can guess that the amount these repairs cost was almost exactly the amount that I should have tithed! (Shows you that I don’t make very much with my 7 hour a week job.) I was pretty shocked by this reminder that our heavenly father is just and that he always demands the best from us. Instead of having my money go to the church where it would be truly helpful, it ended up contributing to some repair company in South Florida. Today at church, I found out the Britannia ward is still doing tithing settlements for the 2008 year. I spoke to the bishop to get his feeling on the matter and he suggested I put the money aside to give once baptized. I decided that this was not quite as good of any idea as what I had originally considered which was giving to one of the charitable wings of the church. I chose the Clean Water foundation because a good friend of mine is really involved in water issues and spending the summer in China occasionally in rural areas I realized how big of a concern safe water truly is. Plus, I like to think that if more far east countries had clear water they would not necessarily serve tea with every meal as the only safe option thus removing an enduring problem of missionaries in the region :P. I actually accidentally entered in a much larger amount then my tithing amount onto the web site and so I ended up contributing more than I had planned. I feel really great about that actually, and I felt a wave of relief as soon as I saw the receipt in my inbox. Giving is just so rewarding and I know I will be blessed for having done so. In Judaism, giving tzcedackah/charity is the only action for which a human being is allowed to ask for a direct named blessing from God. For all other actions, one can request God’s blessing but not directly name a specific goal or desire. When one gives charity however, one can literally say…” For this act of giving I want X.” Of course, Jews believe as do all people of faith that God answers in his own way and time but the request is permitted wheras usually it is viewed as negative or presumptious.

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Letter to Foyles about LDS books

To those in charge of ordering books for the Humanities section at Foyles

I went to your store today to browse your religious and philosophical selection and found it quite through and comprehensive in regard to most major world faiths. The shelves of Islam and Judaism related books were impressively stacked with interesting and worthwhile readings and great works of the faith. I could find five or six different translations of the Qu’ran, Mishnah torah and other major works. Your Christian theology section was even more impressive. Indeed, you even had substantial content and literature on Buddism, Hinduism, Gnosticism and New World Faiths. Yet, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ( Mormons) were almost completely excluded.

The LDS church is fast emerging as the first Global Faith since the beginning of Islam with over 12 million members. Its global network and reach allow it to be involved with both missionary and Charity work throughout the world including prominently in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. Yet, what I found at your shop was clearly inadequate. All writing on the church was lumped under Christian theology and the selection that I found was inadequate for any looking for more about this faith. There were two translations of the Book of Mormon though both were jumbo sized readers editions out of the price range of most with fledgling interest. There were no copies of the church’s other essential scriptures ( Doctrine and Covenants or Pearl of Great Price). In fact, the only other books about the church were copies of Richard Bushman’s very wonderful introduction to Mormonism and one very critical and anti-Mormon book that is exceptionally outdated. It should be clear from my descriptions that this is not an adequate selection for such a major world religion.

I am a student studying at Queen Mary College in London and had planned to become a frequent shopper at Foyles ( I am here from the United States) as well as becoming a store member but I can no longer do so in good conscious. If and when your selection of LDS books increased, you can certainly expect my renewed patronage.

Thanks

Sincerely
Daniel Ortner
Queen Mary College
1/20/09

A president for Hindus and Non-believers as well!

 

The Inaugural speech was quite well done. Solidly constructed and very beautifully delivered if not quite transcendent. At times, it dropped into pedestrian terminology such as the cringe worthy mentions of GDP or data and statistics. At times, Obama’s speech felt lacking theme and direction. Yet, what emerged was something pretty moving and a great peon to America and its potential for greatness.

 

I want to look at a few of the remarkable segments of the speech that I found truly memorable

 

“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.”

 

This piece is remarkable for the mere mention of Hindus and non-believers. As opposed to Rick Warrens clunky, and poorly conceived prayer which excluded such a large portion of the population by specific and repeat mention of Christ, Obama truly intellectually looked to include all in his speech. His mentions of God were much more of the traditional ceremonial deism sort, and even his citation from scripture was really a pretty secure and grounded portion. Yet, the mention of Hindu’s and of non-believers in particular was controversial. As a former member of the most despised and mistrusted group in America (That you be the Atheists though my current Mormon affiliation does not land me much higher up on the list), just the mere acknowledgement made me cheer with joy. My friend Lisa who was watching the speech with me is currently a non-believer and I could just see her elevated and brought into the joy of the moment by the mere mention. It is vital and so beautiful to have a president that realized that the right to believe must also include and protect the right not to believer. Of course, Obama included the “So help me God” in his oath of office and is in favor of greater use of faith based charity and outreach, but fundamentally Obama seems to understand that all are protected under the laws of this land and all deserve to be treated as dutiful citizens. For too long, we have allowed those without faith to be bullied, harassed and even threatened.

 

I contrast the use of this starkly with a speech on faith Mitt Romney made during the primary campaign. When pressed to explain his Mormonism, Romney went to great pains to explain his Christianity and religiosity and to emphasize that “reedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.” In other words, he tried to reconcile his identity within the conservative community by othering those of no faith. He basically said: My faith is different, but at least I am not an immoral non-believer who cannot possibly share in the freedom and liberty of this nation.

Obama’s speech in this point most embodies what makes it different from administrations and candidates past. It is clear that he is serious about the sort of change he speaks of.

 “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

The return to speak about the Muslim faith is especially gutsy. I have heard speculation that Obama will either make a major speech on Islam within his first months in office or attend a conference on the faith and its outgrowth. It is so important to have a president that can work with the moderates and strengthen rather than weaken their resolve. It is great to have a president that does not launch “ crusades” but instead realizes that we are dealing with a battle for the minds of individuals.

“This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed – why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

The return to the notion of every faith is beautiful and symbolic here. He is tying the concept of diversity of faith to our most basic feelings of racial justice. He is linking the two in a way that promotes plurality and true equality. By talking about racial struggles in the same breath as faith, he has made a powerful linkage.

 

“This is the source of our confidence – the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.”

 

This is the one God reference that perhaps unsettled me most at first. It seems to have that sort of American destiny vibe that Bush so fully imbibed. Yet, there this quote shows a refreshing amount of uncertainty and agency. Our destiny is ours to create. We have a calling from our Heavenly Father to achieve greatness. He has blessed us with opportunity and now it is our choices that reveal whether we live up to those high expectations of falter. Our destiny is in our hands and we will be judged more harshly for our failures because we had so much room for growth.

 

With Apologies to General Washington

 

 

I am going to be making at least two posts about the Obama Inauguration. My first post will be more generally outlining my day while the second will focus on the speech itself and in particular my favorite portion of it.

 

 

Was jostled out of bed this morning at 8 am by the lovely screeching sound of a fire alarm. As I came outside, I quickly realized that this was merely a drill and my annoyance turned to anger. It is incredibly rude and frustrating to hold fire drills in such an hour and to awake everyone needlessly. I wish I knew who to complain or to write a letter of protest, but alas on the Queen Mary campus I am without knowledge in these regards.

 

Went to Madame Tussauds because they had a free day for Americans. I found the Mme Tussauds in New York to be an overpriced rip off and unfortunately found this one to be the same. I remember it so fondly from childhood, but alas it was a pale imitation of what I remembered and a cash grab. I got some great pictures with their new Obama and also some other amusing poses with Hitler, Fidel Castro and other illuminary and delightful figures that I will hopefully post to this blog as soon as I can get a new card reader for my computer.

 

I then met up with Amy, Allie and Lisa for dinner. We originally had reservations at this bar and grill restaurant called prohibition, which looked really good. Apparently, though the other branch would be broadcasting the inaugural, but the one we had booked for would not and only had inauguration day specials. We then decided to be good American abroad students and go to TGI Fridays, which was very kitsch and fun. The day actually elevated Fridays into an art form as all the waiters had to wear red white and blue and one was dressed as Lady Britannia, another a superman/woman and others in all sorts of silly outfits. It was fun to watch them go by. Right before the speech began, the bar became crowded with Americans and others standing around to watch the speech. I got to watch it on a nice higher definition television screen.

 

When Obama mentioned Valley Forge, a British fellow standing next to me in the restaurant turned and asked if I was an American. When I said yes, he turned to shake my hand and then apologized to me for the British killing of Americans during the Revolution. Amy later said half jokingly that she forgives the British for that but not for 1812 which I found snarky but very amusing.

 

The restaurant was filled with excitement and good cheer with spontaneous applause on at least two or three occasions which was nice to see. I really do already feel such a transformation in the way other nations view America which is remarkable. This election has meant so much to the country in a way that I couldn’t even clearly see when I was going door to door for Barack way back in May 2007. I can’t believe that he is finally in the white house. The day felt like it would never come and yet it feels so right. I am so happy to be involved with a major winning movement and cause for my first major foray into activism as I do hope it will excited me and inspire me onward further.

Heavenly Mother

One of the LDS concepts I think I most strongly value is the notion of a Heavenly Mother. I have spent the day pretty intensely enraptured by the idea reading articles and just contemplating the utter complexity of the idea. It is strange to remove myself from the very abstract notion of god’s gender and to begin to place components of gender to my view of God. It is even stranger for me to imagine another personage of comfort beside him. Yet, this feels natural in a way. 

What follows is pretty purely speculation on my part and involves outlandish ideas such divine embodiment. For those not interest in theology, this post is probably worth bypassing 

It makes sense, of course, that if men and woman were made in the image of the godhead, that the feminine would come from a personage as well. Of course, the Jewish idea that man and woman are sort of literally split into two works for this point as well, but is not as satisfying as the idea that male and female together form a template that has at the very least worked for our heavenly father and mother ( there is no guarantee that same gendered god pairings could not exist only that such is not a pairing included in the plan of salvation created for us). I have been reading about links to the old testament notion of Aserath and also to the greek and judeo wisdom tradition as Sophia. I am also looking into the imagery associated with the Sabbath as a bride which I feel might have some connection. It also makes me think about the cult of Maryhood developed by the catholic church, Perhaps, there is some merit to the idea that heavenly mother embodied as Mary in a twist on what Catholics believe. Thus, there was a literal act of conception between the Heavenly Father and Mother to produce Christ. Yet, this may not work because the question arises of whether Joseph then could be said to have had intercourse with a Goddess. These ideas are mere speculation of course. There is also the kabbalistic idea of Shekhinah or the feminine spirit of god on the earth which holds may of the nutritive qualities we would associate with a mother. Yet, the Shekhinah is also described quite like the holy spirit in other places. It’s presence is conditional on an absence of sin and is a revealer of truth (Linking it back to the wisdom tradition). I know that General Authorities have spoken the Holy Spirit as masculine, but I wonder if it is not possible that this is an example of mistaken pronouns and that perhaps the Holy Spirit and our heavenly mother are one in the same. This would also explain the notion of the Holy Spirit impregnating Mary as is commonly understood. The Heavenly Mother was associated traditionally with pregnancy and fertility. Thus, it is she that might fill a virgin with a child in violation of standard order of things. It would also fit some of the more paternalistic comments made by authorities about protection of the holy mother as she is only granted to members of the church of the lord and recoils at the sight of sin. I rather like the idea of the three personages being mother father and son as it fills our natural sense of family and links back to the ideas of eternal progression, which are so important to the church. Obviously, this is pure speculation but I find it pretty fascinating. I long for and pray for continued revelation on the part of the general authorities of this church in order to give members a fuller conception of our mother in heaven. I predict that whatever is discovered will conceptually fit the ancient Israeli ideas and templates which so many LDS ideas hearken back to a complete. 

I have also been filled with interest as I’ve been reading blogs by Pagan Mormons believing in the dispensation but also in notions of a divine mother earth deserving our worship. I find it appealing that my faith can actually be extended to be accommodating and to fill others lives. I’ve found in my conversations with those of all backgrounds and beliefs that the LDS church has some major theological idea that can inspire and connect. Be it the notion of premortality, heavenly mother, divine progression etc. All of these concepts can be found in part through other faiths and idea structures. I feel that the LDS church puts them together theologically into a coherent package which is inspiring. Thus, it allows me to believe in the precept upon precept revelation of truth in the sense that these ideas came unto others before being restored. It is a beautiful idea because it allows me to believe that those of other faiths in other places could have been and can continue to be prophets and visionaries of God. Thus, I have no problem believing that the Muslim prophet Muhammad was a prophet of god, nor that other even more modern faiths such as Ba’hai can have some divine truth in them. I can only believe that the impact of other faiths and practices will continue to impress revelations onto all mankind and onto the leaders of the church. 

Here are the relevant links I mention 

Article in Dialogue by Kevin Barney- How to Worship Our Mother in Heaven ( Without getting excommunicated) 

http://www.dialoguejournal.com/content/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/4104-05Barney.pdf 

Nephi and his Asherah by Daniel Peterson 

http://farms.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=9&num=2&id=223 

Some Pagan Mormon Blogs that I’ve taken a fancy to 

http://motherlovergoddess.blogspot.com/ 

http://bethanymagdalene.blogspot.com/

New beginnings/ Growing faith/ LDS

Hello, from London. I guess I only tend to use this blog for long trips and study abroad experiences. I regret immensely that I failed to do any blogging on my summer program in China, but promise to remedy that by blogging extensively over this semester abroad.

I guess a bit of a recap is in order for anyone, as unlikely as it may be, who read my blog in the past but is not a close friend and so does not know how my life has changed in the past year and a half. I will begin by talking about religious changes and make a separate post about relationship and other life changes so that anyone interested can go to the appropriate post.

In my Israel/Palestine blog I blogged extensively about religion. At the time, I was a very hardcore and intense atheist. My views were quite steadfast and I believe bred in part of a desire to strongly believe in my own reasoning as the most powerful force in the world. I held my own ability to think and understand as capable of solving all of the problems in the world in and of itself. I had a couple of very humbling experiences over the past year that truly made me realize that by myself I am stuck. I am continually stuck in relationships that can not improve, social roles that are insipid and fail to excite and lacking growth. For all of my appeal to reason, I felt stagnant without faith and unable to advance myself.

Additionally, I was resentful after the death of my mother and didn’t want to even consider a higher power that could allow something to befall such a good and kind person. Just last week, I read C.S Lewis’s A Grief Observed and some of his profound observations about grief have truly stuck with me since. It is so easy to in theory speak of the higher purpose of death and the afterlife, but when someone you know and love is stripped away from this earth it is excruciating and very difficult to calmly rationalize away. I realize, however, that without faith even the memory of my mother had grown more distant. As a mere body in the dirt, her legacy had decayed to a place of mere ceremonial importance. Faith was vital in maintaining an enduring and more eternal place for her in my life.

Over the last summer in China, I had some incredibly conversations about religion and faith with my Chinese instructor Charles. He is a convert to christianity and spoke with much sense and passion despite my stubborn arrogance. These conversations made a deep impression on me. I have actually yet to speak to him since the summer and truly mean to let him know how much those conversations meant to me. They didn’t persuade me in any particular direction but I do think that seeing his faith and its positive impact truly made me desire faith in a way that I had not before.

While in China I looked for a more general form of panspirituality and really found so much beauty in the power of buddism, taoism and other faiths. Visiting holy shrines throughout, however, these religions felt incomplete, jumbled and theologically unorganized. I did not feel that I could truly satisfy my thirst for knowledge through these faith structures.

At the same time, I was in a relationship with my friend Tatiana throughout the summer and though it was truly a complex series of events leading me to do so, began to investigate her church ( Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints). I can’t say, that I didn’t at first go more out of a desire to find out more about her faith and to try to salvage a souring relationship, but I quickly became interested. After the first time I went to church with her, she had a job interview at the Apple Store on Boylston Street in Boston and I went to the Barnes and Noble in the Prudential Center and began to read books such as Mormonism for dummies and beginners guide to Mormonism.

To be honest, I had not really known much about the church theology only its history. I had come to believe that its prophet Joseph Smith was a fraud and a manipulator of men and that the church was hierarchal and overly strict in controlling the behavior of individuals such as banning the consumption of alcohol. I hated how Dogminded Tatiana seemed on so many issues and how she viewed them as black and white and I felt that these stemmed from her faith.

Yet, I was absolutely blown away by the elegance and logic of the theology I was reading. Instantly, I began to feel the logic in so many of the church ideas such as the pre-existence of the spirit ( coinciding so well with our experience of meeting someone for the first time and feeling that we have known each other for an eternity) as well as the notion of an eternal family. I also felt that theodicy was better addressed in the LDS faith as we were able to grow much as spirits and came to earth for the supplemental growth we required. Additionally, we are able to grow after we die and thus those with short lives will not be unable to reach full potential as individuals. Thus, a lot of the problems I held with the idea of small children being born merely into a life of suffering were at least in part answered. Moreover, I do feel that LDS theology very efficiently does answer the christian problem of what happens to those who never had a chance to hear of christ and his existence. Viewing heaven in the sense of degrees of glory allows for individuals to grow in purity while not of the christian faith and then to ultimately come to god after death. Their living experiences of good will essentially set them up for a powerful faith when it arrises. Yet, we can grow faster and more full in this life through the right faith. We can live the most rewarding life and improve ourselves through faith in christ. This does seem like at least the resemblance of a solution to the biggest of Christian problems.

Thus, I was intellectually take by the church and I began to attend excitedly. Yet, so many things still bothered me and I lacked a true sort of faith beyond curiosity. I found out a lot of things that truly upset me such as the fact that only LDS can attend weddings inside temples. The church involvement in the political campaign over proposition 8 also seriously tarnished my view of it And I realize that this was never a faith I could choose on my own without already having belief.

Yet, faith is not about preference or what one wants but about truth. In the past, as I crafted my own ideal liberal faith with a truly non-judgmental deity, I drifted further towards atheism because the deity was my own and nothing resembling a truth. Thus, I soon replaced the deity with my own reasoning and understanding. Fortunately, I was now able to establish a degree of faith I never had been able to before. One evening at around 10pm after a few weeks of investigating the church I got this incredibly strong desire to go to the outside of the Mormon Temple near boston and to see it. As I drove ther with Tatiana, I felt a powerful spiritual energy beyond anything I had felt before. I felt literally spoken to as my whole body filled with power. It was moving and incredible. Being the sceptic that I am, I wanted to go to other nearby churches to see if they would replicate the feeling. There was a nearby catholic church and protestant church of some denomination ( I am not sure). The Catholic church gave me the creepiest and most draining vibe, while the protestant church left me feeling not much at all. As I went back to the Temple I walked of to the side and knelt facing one of the brightly illuminated lights and prayed to God to fill be with that same warmth and energy. To be with me and to guide me in my life and to help improve me and build me into the person he wanted me to be. There was a pretty drastic instant change as I went back to walk to the car with Tatiana. I felt like a different person and it felt with her that I was speaking for the first time despite having known her for years. I felt an equal or even a better on many levels whereas before she had often made me feel inferior and not up to her level. My exalted feeling wore off over the next few days and has remained a less perceptible shift.

A lot of other aspects of the faith. Especially believe in Christ took longer to grow. In many ways, they are still growing. As I engage in conversation with missionaries as well as LDS members and friends of other faiths I grow in my testament and understand of Christ and his sacrifice. Yet, the process has been a truly incredible one and I have enjoyed it on a deep level.

I have yet to be baptized as my father has voiced very intense opposition as one would expect from a Jewish father hearing of his son’s interest in conversion. He views this as an attack on him and his ancestry, not realizing that my faith has brought me closer to Judaism and actually grown my Jewish identity in a way it could not while I was an Atheist. I am currently in London as I said before and going to wait till a bit later in the program after attending services here for a while to convert officially.

If anyone reading this would like to talk about faith or has any other questions for me about my transformation or process I would be very glad to speak about it. I relish conversation on the topic and look to grow from your views and perspectives.